2IR – The Electric Age

More people, greater demand 

In the year 1800, the world’s population stood at 1 billion; within a hundred years, by the turn of the 20th century, this would double, bringing  the number of people on the planet to an unprecedented 2 billion.

Not only did the world’s population grow, but thanks to the industrial revolution, people earned higher incomes, the overall standards of living went up, and the cost of living went down.

People in general were wealthier and better off than their forefathers from the 1800’s. They were able to eat better, dress better, and enjoy a higher standard of living. 

Add to all of this the rapid expansion of colonialism in the 1800s, and you have a capitalist’s dream: tens of millions of insatiable consumers demanding more products, and waving their money in your face.

Naturally, there was a greater demand than ever for food as well as for non-food items, such as clothing, medicines, cosmetics, furniture, crockery, cutlery and ornaments.

In addition, with new inventions came more things to buy, creating new consumer demand which the factories had to meet. A perfect example of this was  the invention of the internal combustion engine followed by the creation of the first car by Karl Benz in 1885.

Motor vehicles went on sale a short while later, and within two decades, cars were in huge demand globally. Everybody wanted an automobile.

Old modes couldn’t cut it

The existing farms and factories were not going to meet this massive new demand. There was a need for more farmland and bigger factories. More than that, there was a need for new, more efficient, more productive farming and manufacturing methods.

All things considered, the stage was set for another big change in the world. 

Waiting around 

The factories at the time had two major limitations. First, there was no systematic way of manufacturing items, and this led to a lot of inefficiency. 

The way the first cars were manufactured, for example, was that the parts would be lumped up in one section of the assembly plant, and the technicians would huddle around, pick up the parts they could, and start putting them together, one at a time. 

When one team completed the section they were working on, the next team would begin their work on it. For example, once the engine assembly technicians had completed assembling the engine, the engine installation team would install it into the car.

This was a very inefficient system of manufacturing, because the various sections of the vehicle were manufactured sequentially, instead of simultaneously. In other words, they were made one section after the other, from start to end. It was a time-consuming, time-wasting process. 

People had to stand around a lot, doing nothing while waiting for the teams ahead of them to complete their work.

Stinky, scorching steam engines

Second, all the machines in factories were powered by massive steam engines which were installed in sections of the premises away form where people worked, because of the heat, smoke and bad odours they generated. 

But that wasn’t the real problem with steam engines. The real problem was that each engine powered dozens of factory machines, and it was connected to them via a precarious system of pulleys and belts.

Try to picture it: a massive, rumbling engine sitting in the basement, spinning a huge pulley. This pulley was connected to another pulley upstairs using an extremely long belt. Then, that pulley would in tuen be connected to pulleys attached to the machines themselves, causing the machines to work.  

With its hundreds of moving parts, it was like a massive 3-D jigsaw puzzle of pulleys and wheels, and it was a troublesome system that broke far too often. A single failure could stop factory operations for hours until it could be fixed. And (God forbid!) a fault in the steam engine itself would bring the whole factory to a halt for days.

These were definitely not the right conditions for optimal production.

Artisans, assemble!

In 1913, Henry Ford changed manufacturing forever by setting up the first ever moving assembly line for manufacturing vehicles. His new system reduced the time required to build a complete car, from 12 hours to one-and-a-half hours.

Each person on the assembly line had one task to do, and a very limited time in which to do it before the line moved on. By the end of the line, there was a fully completed vehicle.

Henry Ford’s innovation was subsequently applied to manufacturing pretty much every type of item, and the world of manufacturing would never be the same again.

Electric motors

Another boost to manufacturing came form electric motors. Although invented in 1834, the electric motor was only improved enough for practical use during the late 1800’s. Even then, they could not be used because electricity was not available in factories.

But this was about to change.

The invention of the lightbulb led to a massive demand for electricity in towns and cities, and by the eary 1900’s, electricity lines were being rolled out all over the world. 

Manufacturers seized the opportunity, and began manufacturing and installing electric-powered machines in factories. The new machines were much smaller and more compact, did not give off any smoke or bad doors, and best of all, each had its own motor.

No more stinky steam engines, no more pulleys and belts, no more frequent failures that brought entire production lines to a grinding halt. 

Ready, steady, Revolution!

Assembly line and electricity gave rise to a whole new generation of factories, all of which were smaller yet far more efficient. Not only that, but they could be set up anywhere in the world in the fraction of the time it took to set up massive steam-powered factories.

The face of manufacturing was to change forever, and the stage was set for a revolution: the Second Industrial Revolution.

Fact 3: More Tech in the Next Decade than in the Previous Century

Did you know? We will see more new technologies in the next decade, than we saw in the previous century.

I know what you are thinking: this is impossible. There is no way so many new technologies could emerge in just ten years. Granted, we are living in a time of great technological progress, and we expect many new technologies to come to light over the next ten years; but more than in the previous century? No way. 

The previous century was the one that brought us pretty much all the technology that we know and love. Transistors, computers, satellites, space travel, the internet, cellphones, social media, instant messaging, e-commerce and so many more technologies were products of the previous century. How can we top all that, and in one tenth the period of time? 

It is not just possible, but is definitely going to happen, according to Peter Diamandis, who is a well known Silicon Valley entrepreneur, futurist, and founder of the Prize Foundation. Peter believes that the key is computational power. As computers become ever more powerful, they will unlock the doors to immense new potential in technological progress.

Exponential Computing Power

In 1965 American engineer and founder of Intel Corporation, Gordon Moore, made a prediction that the number of transistors per silicon chip in a computer will double every year for the next ten years. In simple terms, this means that computing power will double nearly every year for a decade. 

This became known as Moore’s Law, and many experts found it preposterous. They did not believe that computing power could double every year for ten years. 

But Moore’s law held true for the next decade, and it did not stop there; it has been over fifty years, and Moore’s Law still holds true to this day. Computing power hasn’t stopped doubling every year!

The result? Today we have supercomputers in our pockets that are more powerful than anything imaginable in the 1960’s. For example, the computer that helped land people on the moon during the Apollo mission was one of the most advanced and powerful in the world at the time. Your ordinary smart phone is 120 million times more powerful than that computer. 

Scientists say that today’s computers have the computing power of a mouse brain, and we are just a few years away from the computing power of the human brain. Sounds creepy, I know.

Data at the Speed of Light

Going hand in hand with the massive computing power available to us, are our super-fast, extensive computer networks which form the modern internet. Today we have computers connected across continents as if they are sitting right next to each other, because data transfer is so fast it seems instantaneous. 

Two people on opposite sides of the world can chat, share files and images and even edit the same document together thanks to the super-fast information highway, enabled by extensive networks of fibre optic cables, cellular networks and satellites. 

Fibre optic cables transmit data at the speed of light, and a single fibre, one eightieth the width of a human hair, can push through 14 trillion bits of information per second, which is equivalent to 210 million voice calls – all at the same time. Astounding.

Taking things a step further, Elon Musk’s SkyLink satellite network will provide internet access to the remotest parts of the world wirelessly from the sky.

As these networks grew and became more widespread, more and more devices became connected. In 1984 there were only 1000 devices connected to the internet. Today, there are over 20 billion connected devices. But not all of these devices are computers. 

The rise of expansive and reliable networks gave rise to the concept of the “Internet of Things” which is where things other than computers are now connected, and for various reasons. Home appliances, security systems, vehicles, medical equipment, heavy machinery, clothing and even farm animals are now connected to the internet.

Another side effect of these networks is the concept of the “neural network”. A neural network is where clusters of computers that are connected via high speed networks are able to operate as one single computer, sharing the processing power between them. This arrangement mimics the human brain, where each computer is analogous to a single brain cell, while the collective operates as a single, super-powerful brain. 

We are not Alone

What is the result of all this? Super-powerful computers, high speed networks and neural networks have together spurred the rebirth of an extremely powerful and potentially world-changing technology that was around since the 1950’s but could not reach its full potential because of the limitations of the technology at the time: Artificial Intelligence.

Artificial Intelligence, or AI, has given computers immense new capabilities, giving them abilities that were only possible for humans previously. Computers are now able to speak to us, understand our languages, recognise people and objects and learn new things – just like their human creators. 

Thanks to these newfound abilities, they are now able to drive cars, pilot drones and planes, diagnose illnesses, operate machinery, solve complex puzzles, teach themselves and play games and a whole host of other tasks. 

Most importantly, thanks to their immense new power, computers are now able to help us to invent new technologies. Scientists and inventors are no longer trying to figure things out by themselves; they have help in the form of AI. 

So, whereas the technological advancement of the past century was driven by human beings, the tech advancement of the next decade will be driven by human beings plus artificial intelligence. 

And since computers tend to do things much faster than their humans creators, the tech advancement of the next decade will take place at a highly accelerated pace – likely ten times faster than ever before.

Fact 2: Half of all Jobs will Disappear Within a Decade

Fact No. 2 : Did you know 50 percent of today’s jobs will not exist in ten years time? 

How is this possible? How is it that half of the jobs people do today, will cease to exist in just a decade?

The answer lies with technology. As technology advances and becomes more capable, thanks to artificial intelligence and robotics, we will find computers and robots doing more and more of the jobs that were traditionally only possible for humans to do. 

Machines are now able to drive cars, fly drones, speak like people, prepare meals, dispense medication, monitor our health and a whole host of other things. In the next few years, your taxi will be a self-driving vehicle, your waiter, chef and baristas will be robots, the cashier at your nearest supermarket will be an AI, the call centre agent you speak to will be a computer, and your medication will be dispensed by a robot pharmacist. But this will just be what we see on the surface.

Machines will be doing countless other “invisible” jobs, jobs where we don’t normally get too see the workers, in industries such as agriculture and manufacturing. They will also do dangerous jobs like mining and undersea and space exploration. 

Machines have many obvious advantages over human beings, which will provide compelling reasons for businesses to adopt them in favour of humans. Machines don’t get tired or sleep, so are able to work 24-7. The best part is, they don’t earn a salary. They are more efficient and more precise than human beings. They don’t have personal problems, take sick leave, or go on holiday. A single machine might be able to replace dozens of human beings.

And did I mention, they don’t earn a salary?

With benefits such as these, it will be impossible for businesses to resist going the automation route; and as these technologies gain traction and become more widespread, they will gradually displace their human counterparts.

This is by no means a new trend. We’ve seen theis trend repeat itself over and over again in the past two centuries, where new, innovative and highly efficient machines replaced human beings en masse in farms and factories around the world.

But there was a major difference: in the past, machines were only able to take over the most manual types of work, the type of work that is highly structured, boring, repetitive and required no thinking at all. They were ideal for large scale farming and manufacturing, where they plugged the fields, harvested crops and worked in assembly lines systematically assembling components, weaving cloth and filling containers.

Today’s machines are a lot more capable, thanks to artificial intelligence, and are able to complete exceedingly more complex tasks.

Another likely scenario which will lead to jobs disappearing, is technological obsolescence. With the incessant flood of new innovations every year, existing technologies are constantly under threat of being replaced by newer, better technologies. 

In one moment a technology is the kind of the hill, and in the next, it is a memory of the past.

The thing is, when a technology is replaced or disappears, along goes the entire associated industry and all the jobs in that industry. 

We’ve seen this trend too repeat itself over and over in our lifetimes. Devices, gadgets, software and online services have come and gone. One of the most dramatic cases of a tech completely disappearing, was that of the video cassette recorder (VCR). At one stage, there were only two ways to watch a movie: on TV or on a VCR.

The VCR industry was huge at its peak, making billions of dollars in revenue and employing hundreds of thousands of people across its value chain, from research and development, to manufacturing, distribution, marketing, sales to after-sales service.

Add to that the associated industries that went hand-in-hand with the VCR industry, such as cassette manufacturing and sales, movie production on tapes, video rental stores and the like, and you can see how huge this global industry was.

Here is a mind-blowing example: the movie Lion King on video cassette sold $500 million worth of copies – that is half a billion dollars worth! That is just one movie!

Of course, as history testifies, that industry wasn’t going to last, and sure enough, towards the end of the last century, video cassettes were replaced by CD’s and then DVD’s. Blue Ray disks are enjoying a bit of time in the sun, but with 4k streaming and fibre internet becoming a standard in households throughout the world, even Blur Ray is destined to go the way of the VCR.

Now take some time to think about all those people who worked in the massive VCR industry, either directly or indirectly. It is not inconceivable that the number of people who earned their livelihoods through this industry would have been in the millions. What happened to all of them when the industry disappeared?

We know they didn’t die of starvation, so obviously they moved into other jobs in other industries. That is the nature of technology.

Ultimately, there are a few lingering questions: what current technologies are destined for the garbage dump, and what is the next big thing? What industries are going to go bust in the next decade? 

And most importantly: What jobs are going to disappear, and what new opportunities will arise?

How do you future-proof yourself?

Introduction to Chapter 1

Our our world is changing at an incredible pace. 

While it is true that our world has been in a constant state of change since just over hundred years ago, it seems that recently the pace of this change has accelerated for some inexplicable reason. 

It feels like its getting harder to keep up with this change. This change is unavoidable and pervasive; every aspect of our professional and domestic lives is affected. Just when we get used to doing things a certain way, things change and we have to learn a new way. Just when we get used to one technology, it disappears, and in comes some new, “better”, apparently “easier-to-use” technology. 

One day, a certain tech is the king of the hill, and the next, it is king of the garbage dump. 

If you have ever doubted that change is in fact accelerating, take a look at the list below. It shows how many years it took for various well-known technologies to reach an audience of 50 million people:

• Telephone: 75 years

• Radio: 38 years

• Television: 13 years

• Internet: 4 years

• Pod: 3 years

• Facebook: 2 years

• Instagram: 19 months

• YouTube: 10 months

• Twitter: 9 months

• Angry Birds: 35 days

• Pokemon Go: 19 days

Even at a glance, it is easy to see the trend that emerges from the list: with each new technology that appeared over the past 120 years, the time taken for widespread adoption by consumers became significantly shorter. Compare the 75 years it took the telephone to reach 50 million homes, to the 19 days it took Pokemon Go. It is simply astounding.


We often hear the word “disruption” being used to describe what is happening in the world, and to our lives, as a result of this breakneck pace of change. 

There is no doubt that our lives are being constantly disrupted. But what does disruption really mean? And how more specifically, what does it mean for us and the future of our lives and careers?

Rather than to answer these questions in tedious detail, I will instead present three facts which, I believe, will convey this in a far more impactful manner. 

These are coming up in the next three sections of this chapter.

Fact 1 – The Top 10 Jobs That Didn’t Exist a Decade Ago

Did you know, the top 10 jobs in demand in 2021, did not exist in 2010? 

What exactly does this mean? It means that in just over a decade, our world has changed so much, that entire new industries were created. And these industries didn’t just come into being; they caught on and thrived, to the extent that some became billion-dollar giants. 

All in a matter of 10 years.

Never before in the history of mankind have entire industries sprung up in such a short space of time as a decade. 

Now, when I talk about industries here, I’m not talking about individual businesses, but entire new industries comprising of clusters of businesses within them. 

An industry is defined as a group of companies that perform similar business activities. There are dozens of industry types in today’s economy, such as car manufacturing, tourism, insurance, commercial banking and software.

In the past decade we saw completely new industries emerging, such as biotech, cryptocurrency, autonomous vehicles, data science, 3D printing and machine learning. 

Being new and innovative, these industries needed people to do new and innovative things, therey giving rise to new job descriptions. And due to the rapid growth of these industries, those jobs have become the most in-demand in the world. 

Now, you may be wondering what types of jobs are those? Here are a few examples: 

  • Machine Learning Engineer
  • Social Media Manager
  • Advanced Analytics
  • Driverless Car Engineer
  • Data Scientist
  • Security: Activity Monitor

Let’s consider an everyday example. When you speak about an iPhone today, everybody knows what you are talking about. But if you mentioned the word iPhone in 2008, it wouldn’t have made sense. People might have thought you were saying “I phone…”,  as if you were going to say you were going to call someone, but you did not complete your sentence.

Someone might have asked you: “You phone who? Please complete your sentence!” 

Now, in a similar way, we have a whole lot of technologies that are emerging, that are creating new job opportunities, and new job descriptions that we have never seen before. 

What does this all mean for us?

It essentially means two things. Firstly, that we are living in a time of rapid change, unlike anything our forefathers ever experienced; and that change is unpredictable. No one, no expert in the world, can say with certainty what the next decade or even half decade will bring. 

Secondly, it means we will have to learn to adapt very quickly to these changes, and prepare for jobs that don’t yet exist. I know that sounds crazy, but that is the reality we are living in.